History of board games | Snakes & Ladders

Ever wonder where your favourite game came as a child? Or question if it had some hidden past? Over the coming weeks the VMS team will be revealing some of the hidden secrets of the most loved games of our childhood.

The ultimate game of luck, Snakes and Ladders (or chutes and ladders in the USA) has a hallowed place in many people’s childhoods. Adored for its simplicity, this game has a rather unexpected, and even philosophical, history.

In the final decade of the nineteenth century, the game was introduced to Victorian Britain from India, where it had been played from ancient times. Here the game was called ‘Moksha Patam’ and the original board was highly ornate, decorated with deities, angels, animals and humans, framing the game with imagery of both the earthly and heavenly realms.

As well as being rather good fun, it was popular for the gentle manner with which it illustrated the notion of karma, which was prevalent throughout Hindu and Jain philosophy. The goal of the game was the same as today, to reach the finishing line first; in the Indian version, however, this symbolised the attainment of ‘moksha’, the liberation from the cycle of rebirth.

Game of Snakes and Ladders,

gouache on cloth (India, 19th century)

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